Home News and Features Vermont College of Fine Arts announces ‘affiliation agreement’ with CalArts

Vermont College of Fine Arts announces ‘affiliation agreement’ with CalArts

The Vermont College of Fine Arts. Photo by John Lazenby.
The move makes the California Institute of the Arts VCFA’s “parent,” according to a letter from school leaders. But the Vermont college expects to maintain its own board, president and Montpelier offices. 

By Ethan Weinstein

Vermont College of Fine Arts announced Tuesday that it has reached an “affiliation agreement” with the California Institute of the Arts that would make the Santa Clarita-based private college VCFA’s “parent.”

The Vermont arts school will retain its own board, president, faculty, “academic independence” and administrative offices in Montpelier, according to a letter signed by Mike Goldstein, chair of VCFA’s board of trustees; Andrew Ramsammy, interim president; Mary-Kim Arnold, dean of faculty and academic affairs; and Katie Rasmussen, dean of students.

Pending approval by each school’s accreditation organizations and boards of trustees, the change will be finalized in July, according to a press release. 

The move is the latest VCFA effort to stay viable in a climate cruel to many small colleges nationwide. The college had already shifted away from hosting students on its former Montpelier campus, working to sell and lease its land, with enrollment declining from about 340 in 2022 to roughly 215 now, according to Ramsammy. 

Declining enrollment has contributed to the gradual demise of several of Vermont’s small colleges in recent years. Both Green Mountain College, in Poultney, and Southern Vermont College, in Bennington, shuttered in 2019. And earlier this year, Goddard College announced it would move to virtual-only programming, at least temporarily.

VCFA shifted its residential programming to Colorado College and plans to have its first residency at the California Institute of the Arts, also known as CalArts, in January 2025, according to the letter from school leaders. The pivot away from Montpelier-based programming has drawn sharp rebuke from alumni.

In an interview, Ramsammy said that VCFA would remain a nonprofit corporation in Vermont and will maintain its accreditation while becoming an “affiliate of CalArts.” The college’s board of trustees, he said, would be reconstituted with a split of membership between CalArts picks and VCFA appointees. 

The Vermont arts college’s community message lays out the financial headwinds facing the small graduate school, contrasting its experience to the “financially strong” CalArts.

The Los Angeles-area school, which was founded in 1961, enrolled 1,440 undergraduate and graduate students in the fall of 2022, according to its website. 

VCFA’s leaders wrote that the California school “offers an excellent, fully equipped campus and a faculty that stands eye-to-eye with ours,” and that CalArts expected to “learn from our expertise in low-residency graduate arts education designed for non-traditional learners.”

Financial aid and school costs “will not be affected,” according to the campus message, and students will still receive a VCFA degree.

“We will benefit from the use of CalArts’ excellent campus and facilities, and the expanded administrative and student services support that only a larger institution can provide,” the school leaders said.  

CalArts President Ravi S. Rajan said in a statement he was “delighted” about the affiliation, which is expected to “broaden the range of academic opportunities and creative collaborations available to artists.”

“Together, we are expanding the arts ecosystem and supporting intergenerational learning that keeps artists at the center of all that we do,” he said.